Healthy Steelers shut down, chew up battered Dolphins in blowout win – Yahoo Sports

What a difference a year makes, health-wise, for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Almost a year ago to the day, the Steelers limped into Paul Brown Stadium and gutted out a playoff victory that was as much handed to them by the Cincinnati Bengals’ own ineptitude as it was earned by the Steelers’ toughness.

But on Sunday, we saw the full potential of a healthy Steelers offense — with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell all playing and playing at a high level — in their 30-12 victory over the Miami Dolphins in the sixth-coldest game in Pittsburgh playoff history. (It was so cold that the line judge’s whistle froze late in the third quarter.)

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin cheers on his team's impressive playoff victory. (AP)Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin cheers on his team's impressive playoff victory. (AP)

Brown, who was knocked out of that Bengals game last year after a vicious hit from Vontaze Burfict, had a first quarter for the ages, scoring 50- and 62-yard touchdowns against a beleaguered defense. The Dolphins took the field without four of their 10 highest-paid defenders, all of them injured, and the unit’s shoddy tackling and poor gap discipline were on display early.

Then it was Bell’s turn. Left to watch his backups take his place last year after a season-ending ACL injury, Bell chewed up the Dolphins for 167 rush yards — the most in franchise playoff history — and two TDs. On a signature drive, Bell took 10 straight handoffs (runs of 8, 5, 5, 15, 6, 5, 8, 25, 0 and 1) and put the Steelers up 20-3 after the missed extra point. According to Pro Football Reference, Bell is the first player since at least 1999 to take all 10 (or more) consecutive carries on a TD drive since at least 1999.

The Steelers will face the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium for the right to play in the AFC championship game. It’s their fourth appearance in the division round of the playoffs under head coach Mike Tomlin. The Dolphins made the postseason for the first time since the 2008 season, but they’ve lost their past three playoff games by a cumulative score of 77-24.

The banged-up Dolphins, who looked lost early in the secondary without top corner Byron Maxwell, must know now how the Steelers felt last year. Backup-turned-starting quarterback Matt Moore gutted through a brutal shot to his jaw to turn in a game effort, but they just didn’t have enough firepower and he fell apart in the second half.

Also credit an improved Steelers defense that forced three straight Dolphins turnovers between the second and third quarters that put the game out of reach. The ageless James Harrison was a madman for a unit that harassed Moore and shut down Jay Ajayi (16 rushes, 33 yards), the back who gashed them for 204 yards and two TDs on the ground in the 30-15 Dolphins win back in Week 6 that triggered Adam Gase’s team’s run to the playoffs.

Of course, you can’t blame Miami’s shortcomings all on injuries. The Dolphins made plenty of unforced errors in this game — none more hilarious than Tony Lippett’s failed field-goal block attempt. It was that kind of game for the visiting team.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger — gimping around a year ago, looking strong now — was not needed to do much more than put the ball into his playmakers’ hands. He was picked twice and sacked in a red-zone possession, as the Steelers settled for a field goal, but only one of his passes hit the Heinz Field turf in the first 49 minutes of the game. Roethlisberger completed 13-of-18 passes (to seven different receivers) for 197 yards and two TDs.

Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ playmakers now face a Chiefs defense that ranked fourth in interceptions and seventh in points allowed. Of course, the Steelers got medieval on the Chiefs the last time they played this season — a 43-14 Steelers win in Pittsburgh that featured 22 points by the Steelers in a breathtaking opening quarter.

That was the formula for the Steelers in their playoff win over the Dolphins: They jumped on them early and played great defense from that point on. It might be a bold strategy to expect things to play out that way on the road, but the Steelers now have the firepower — on both sides of the ball — and the health to be confident going into the game, which would be different than the team that lost to the Denver Broncos on the road in the playoffs a year ago.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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